The persistent notion that we can’t do much at the individual level to combat climate change is rapidly being upended by the increasing availability and affordability of technologies that are making home decarbonization doable. Yes, climate change is a SYSTEM problem, but also, yes, there are very substantive and meaningful things we can and must do at the individual level. The fun part is that most of these home fixes are about electrification, which means I get to make a lot of terrible puns. Get amped!
Electrifying your home (replacing everything that burns fossil fuels with electric alternatives) is still prohibitively expensive, but the things that will rapidly bring your emissions down will also eventually save you money, so tackling them should be something you do as each appliance nears its end of life.
The goal is to electrify your big-ticket items—your car, furnace, stove—to decarbonize your domain. This is both essential for climate change … and good for your health!
Where I live, the grid is fairly non-emitting, so giving gas a pass was an easy choice. We’ve already made some improvements, like solar panels, new windows, and better insulation, but it was time to switch to an electric stove and heat pump.
Of course, if you live somewhere where the grid is dirty, the energy required for your home will still produce emissions, but this demand-side shift will help push that transformation along.
The upfront costs of these shifts are high, but in time, the price of dirty power will go up, and the price of renewables will go down. That said, you don’t do this to get rich. You do it because you need to heat or cool your home anyway, and you’d rather do it in a way that doesn’t destroy the planet.
In more temperate places, a heat pump is a no-brainer. It’ll cool and heat your house with ease, upending the idea that the energy transition means triple-sweater discomfort.
In our chilly climate, our hybrid air-source heat pump system means the heat pump will heat our house on all but the coldest days, when our furnace will kick in. (But thanks to climate change, we hardly have those anymore. As I write this, it’s 15 degrees Celsius in December, WTF!)
When you don’t see the pollution concretely, it’s hard to visualize what is happening. Which is why I’ve been working with my friend Rich to use my home as a test case for emissions reductions. I have ALL THE DATA … and it’s electrifying. (Anyone else picture John Travolta every time someone says “electrifying”? No, just me? K.)
The reason swapping out gas for electricity as soon as possible is so key is because we can’t afford another generation of the pollution these devices would create. Putting in a new gas furnace today means locking in 15–20 years of emissions. (The fancy term for this is “committed emissions.”) The planet cannot handle it.
The hard part is telling old-school service providers you want to do this without experiencing too much mansplaining. Luckily, this is getting easier and easier as more contractors develop expertise with these new technologies.
Of course, this tech is still the purview of early adopters and people wealthy and lucky enough to own their homes. But the idea is that these highly capitalized early adopter types will make the transition smoother for everyone who comes after.
The scale of household and small-business decarbonization that needs to happen over the next decade is daunting. There are no cookie-cutter solutions and lots of decision points. But it’s something individuals can tackle as their pockets allow. And the key is to demonstrate these changes for friends and family, so people can see that they’re entirely unscary and, like, totally normal.
That said, we can’t simply electrify the world and ignore efficiency. Electrified overconsumption is still gross overconsumption.
If you don’t own your place, there’s LOTS you can still do. Ask your landlord what their plans are; lobby your municipality and state or province for incentives to make this affordable for homeowners, especially lower-income households; and share this info with ANYONE WHO WILL LISTEN.
JK, I don’t wanna talk about Succession.
“How I Electrified My Home” (great piece by MVP friend Anne Kramer in CleanTechnica)
“Getting off gas: A how-to guide to get fossil fuels out of your home” (Seth Klein in Canada’s National Observer)
“Climate-Proofing Your Home: How to Electrify” (Todd Woody in Bloomberg)
“Would you get rid of your gas stove and go electric?” (awesome Los Angeles Times vid)
Rewiring America’s “Electrify Everything in Your Home“ guide
This week: Cooking with magnets
What are your “big buckets” or goals for emissions reduction? LMK!
Last week: Talking climate with kids
So many thoughtful thoughts about kids + climate talk. I love this from Skye, from whom I also learned the word doona:
We talk about the ways the stuff [we] want and use does damage and how we can reduce that. How we can make changes. We talk about stuff as it comes up but I’ve decided that becoming emotional about it in front of them is unhelpful. I want to be positive (it might look like head in the sand but I’m a bit stoic about it … change and fix what you can and don’t worry about the stuff you have no control over that might happen at some obscure point in the future). I started a social enterprise, a movement to get people giving pre-loved gifts (pretty much everyone is uncomfortable with the idea … “people will think I’m a tight arse” trumps reducing consumption). I wanted to do this for them. Both to help reduce climate damage and to show them you can actually do something about it instead of burying yourself under your doona in a climate-change-induced depression. I hope they won’t feel paralysed by fear and will continue to be aware of the stuff that’s going on around them while making changes where they can.
Joy Crookes is the chill lady we need right now.
Thanks so much for reading. As always, let me know how to make this newsletter better.
Have a lovely, healthy weekend,
P.S. This is my newsletter for the week of Dec. 23, 2021, published in partnership with YES! Media. You can sign up to get Minimum Viable Planet newsletter emailed directly to you at https://mvp.substack.com.